Blind photographer's work captivates at exhibit

Blind photographer's work captivates at exhibit

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by Katherine Cook

WCNC.com

Posted on May 6, 2013 at 8:29 AM

CAMP SHERMAN, Ore. -- Along the peaceful banks of the Metolious River, photographer Gary Albertson finds solace, capturing Central Oregon's scenic beauty.

"I call this the perfect, ripened peach of a day," said Albertson as he sets up his large-format view camera along the riverbank. "Sometimes people ask, 'what kind of digital camera is that?'"

Albertson loads his 4 x 5 film and listens for the whirrr of the camera to tell him what shutter speed he's selected.

"Quarter second!" he exclaims.

And then comes the trickiest part for Albertson -- something he can't rely on his ears to accomplish -- seeing the tiny numbers on his camera's f-stop.

"I have to work really hard at this," he said, peering at the numbers through a magnifying glass.

You see Gary Albertson, is legally blind.

In 2010, a rare form of glaucoma stole Albertson's central sight. All he has now is a thin donut of peripheral vision-- not enough to see the world through a camera lens.

"This really disturbing loss changed my life a lot," he said. "It was like, you want to hug someone so much, but your arms are cut off you can't hug them anymore," said Albertson.

"Gary didn't want anything to do with his friend the camera," said Albertson's close friend, Dennis Schmidling. "He didn't want anything to do with nature."

For months, Schmidling worked to get Albertson back outside.

"The first try was terrible," recalled Schmidling.

But then, Albertson started using his other senses, to compose photographs.

"I can sense the shape of water by its sound," he said.

And Albertson's work evolved, too.

"I honestly believe my work is getting better," he said.

Albertson's "shots in the dark" captured brilliant colors, composition and the attention of Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist, Jay Mather.

"I'm attracted to anyone who makes great pictures," said Mather, who lives in nearby Sisters, Oregon. Schmidling introduced his mutual friends.

"(Mather) really knows how to tell a story," said Schmidling.

And Albertson's story?

"It has to be told," said Mather. "This is a story that has to be told."

So the two spent months together along the Metolious. Albertson capturing nature, Mather capturing Albertson, and learning life lessons along the way.

"Gary's taught me to slow down," said Mather. "Let your mind and your heart catch up to one another."

Mather and Albertson combined their parallel works in a special photography exhibit at The Casey Eye Institute at Oregon Health & Science University. The exhibit runs through May. At the opening reception, visitors stood in awe of their work.

"This is amazing," said one guest. "It's as though (Albertson) sees more than the rest of us."

For others, the photographs awakened a sense of adventure within them.

"I want to go where these places are," said Justin Diller.

"I just hope I inspire people to use their senses," said Albertson. "I'm not diminishing eyesight... It's a wonderful organ!" He chuckled. "But I'm not giving up on using other things."

And that goes for Albertson's sense of gratitude-- perhaps his most evolved sense of all.

"I'm the luckiest, unlucky guy I've ever met."

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